that wilderness be left “untrammeled” from human control or manipulation, that wilderness remain “natural” where ecological systems are maintained, that designated wilderness remain “undeveloped” and that “outstanding opportuni- ties for solitude of a primitive and unconfined type of recreation” remain intact.
By 1976, the Darrington Ranger District in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, the caretaker of the Glacier Peak Wilderness, had infrastructure in place to address these require- ments. Their designated workforce included a full-time wilderness manager, six seasonal wilderness rangers, and two five-person trail crews. Additional support came from packers, fire lookouts, fire crews, contractors, and re- search scientists. The wilderness workforce also benefited from proportional support from fixed ranger district staffing, facilities and in-kind administrative contributions. Their overarching mandate was to create and implement plans for large-scale ecosystem management while honoring the Wilderness Act and broader Forest Service objectives.
Today, with even more land to manage fol- lowing the 1984 designations of the Boulder River and Henry M. Jackson wilderness areas, the Darrington District gets by with one part- time wilderness specialist, one part-time lead wilderness ranger, one trail crew and as much volunteer help as it can muster. Darrington is relatively fortunate compared to many wilder- ness areas nationwide, which have no paid staff and rely heavily on partners and volunteers for the bulk of minimum-level maintenance tasks. The budget for wilderness protection has shrunk and yet all the work remains—trails and campsites to maintain, historic and archeo- logical sites to support, endangered species to protect, and public education to coordinate.
What wilderness budget there is becomes intermingled with fire, recreation and trails funding. With heavy pressure for frontcountry recreational opportunities, a larger share of fixed money has shifted in that direction. New mandated responsibilities include non-native invasive weed monitoring and treatment, fire management planning, fisheries oversight and habitat restoration, but little money has fol- lowed these obligations.
According to Sue Sater, wilderness programs manager for the Pacific Northwest Region, “overall wilderness funding is way down, and Congress uses this funding to address direct wilderness administration. The agency budget changes over the years, in particular separating out the funding line items for wilderness and trails, have further reduced funding for wilder- ness administration.”
January + February 2010 » Washington Trails
In essence, the Forest Service is being asked to govern its portion of 107,361,680 million acres of designated wilderness nationwide with less than a quarter of the staff and direct resources than it had thirty years ago. The belt has tightened to the point of gross negligence and under--management in many areas with staff burnout, public impatience and a National Wilderness Preservation System on the verge of unraveling due to neglect.
This becomes very real when viewed from the perspective of the three million people who live within 100 miles of the trailheads in the Glacier Peak Wilderness. Following the floods in 2003 and 2006 which closed out two of four access roads to the backcountry, the public’s access to this wilderness has become extremely limited. If these hikers do manage to reach the backcountry, the likelihood of finding unre- paired trail and bridge damage along the way is high and the chance of encountering a back country ranger is low. Agency-supported resto- ration efforts of disturbed backcountry sites are a thing of the past in most areas, along with needed monitoring and onsite management.
In 2009, only 24.5 percent of the 410 national forest wilderness areas met the “minimum stewardship” standard established under the
Forest Service’s “Chief’s Ten-Year Wilderness Stewardship Challenge.” This 2005 initiative identified 10 elements that could serve as yard- sticks against which to evaluate the quality of wilderness management, including such quanti- fiers as invasive plant management, recreation site inventories, outfitter management and wilderness education opportunities. Meeting six out of the 10 elements was defined as the “minimum stewardship” level.
Article continues on p.45.
Opposite Page: Hiker at Little Giant Pass, Glacier Peak Wil- derness. Photo by Trevor Anderson.
Below: Glacier Peak behind Image Lake. Photo by Randall Hodges.
Both photos were en- tered into Northwest Exposure 2010. See the winning images, starting on Page 22.